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Amateur ink raises risk of epidemic

May 12th, 2010 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

Mr Stevens tattooing an Irish family crest

THE popularity of reality TV show Miami Ink and the availability of cheap tattoo kits means amateur tattoo artists could be walking time bombs.

It’s only a matter of time before there is an increase in hepatitis and other related health issues, says tattoo artist Dave Stevens, co-owner of Electric Ink in Levin and Paraparaumu.

The lack of regulation governing the tattoo industry in New Zealand means anyone who has a tattoo gun can set up shop, he says.

He warns people to steer clear of anyone who has bought their kit off Trade Me.

“People are buying kits for around $NZ20-$NZ30 off rogue operators in China and selling them on Trade Me for around $200-$400.”

He says these people are not tattooists – they are simply profiteering.

Mr Stevens has a petition on Trade Me: ‘stop Trademe selling shit tattoo gear to scratchers’, which has about 1179 members so far.

He has also petitioned the Horowhenua and Kapiti Coast District Councils, and local MP Nathan Guy, for the last three years to get the industry regulated.

Some councils regulate tattoo businesses through local bylaws but it’s usually after complaints have been made, he says.

Kapiti Coast District Council spokesperson Tony Cronin says in a statement tattoo shops and other aspects of the beauty industry will be included in a review of their bylaws this year.

He says, however, the council will need to consider if the issues involved are better dealt with at a national level and advocate to Government for regulatory control.

Currently, only national guidelines exist for the safe piercing of skin, issued in 1998 by the Ministry of Health, and more recently guidelines for traditional Samoan practitioners issued in April this year.

But Mr Stevens says guidelines are not laws so it will always be down to the experience and morals of the individual artist.

He believes 90 per cent of professional tattoo artists are concerned, and want regulation to protect the industry, but says there are some who will resist because of the costs involved.

Libby Stevens (25) shows the tattoo commemorating her son's birth. Her ‘daughter' is on the other shoulder.

LIBBY STEVENS: Tattoo commemorates son's birth.

He says the other problem within the industry is there are no laws regarding the age at which someone can be tattooed.

Mr Stevens says he’s been seeing bad tattoos since he started in the business but now he’s seeing more college kids getting tattoos who are far too young and getting what he calls ‘stupid tattoos’.

“We are getting our youth who are going to grow up scarred for life.”

Mr Stevens says he will tattoo as young as 16 providing a parent is present otherwise it’s 18, the minimum age in countries where the industry is regulated.

Poor technique, uneven lines, bad composition, and fading colour are all the hallmarks of a bad tattoo.

He says it’s not just about being good at art, understanding the mechanics and the maintenance and sterilisation of the gear is equally important.

Guest artist at Electric Ink, Rob Hapeta, heard of a party where someone turned up with a tattoo kit and tattooed 19 party-goers with the same equipment.

He says if one of those people had Hepatitis C then it would have been passed on to the others.

Despite the issues, Mr Stevens says the tattoo industry is starting to gain respect.

Mr Stevens says he has seen more ‘professionals’ like lawyers and policemen, as well as middle-aged people, through his doors in the last two to three years wanting their first tattoo.

Thin skin, varicose veins and stretch marks need to be taken into consideration for older people he says.

Mr Stevens (46) is currently training his 25-year-old daughter Libby in the business.

They have a strict policy: they don’t tattoo hands, faces, throats, and gang or racial images – and they won’t tattoo anyone who is pregnant, drunk, stoned, late, smelly or rude.

Dave Stevens’ tips:

  • Look for someone with an established reputation.
  • Ask where they trained and for how long.
  • Ask to see their hygiene practices and equipment (all sterilizers must be serviced and calibrated yearly).
  • A waiting list is generally a good sign.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable in the shop walk away.
  • There is always risk and responsibility so follow the aftercare instructions carefully.

A tale of two tattoos

Grace Crawford says her tattoo is definitely a head turner and she gets loads of compliments.

HEAD TURNER: Grace Crawford gets lots of compliments.

Grace Crawford (22) from Raumati South, always wanted a tattoo and got her first one this year.

She says she originally wanted a small feather on the inside of her arm but when she saw a picture of a peacock painted on a doll, it blew her away.

She says she didn’t research a tattoo artist, it was her boyfriend’s suggestion to look for one that would take his Bartercard.

Ms Crawford says she didn’t ask any questions at the time, but was confident after seeing the quality of his work and knowing he had 30 years’ experience in the industry.

She prefers the tattoo being on her leg because she can forget about it down there and cover it up when she wants to.

Lois Gaines (89), originally from the United States and now living in Paraparaumu, had been thinking about getting a tattoo since the 1960s. She says she does not really know what finally prompted her to get one 40 years later.

Lois Gaines finally gets her tattoo - a birthday present from her daughter.

LOIS GAINES: A birthday present from her daughter.

Ms Gaines discussed it with her daughter last year and through word of mouth they heard of a tattooist who came highly recommended for being gentle.

Ms Gaines says both she and her daughter liked the look of the shop which she described as colourful and it looked clean.

The awards displayed on the wall also gave them confidence and it never crossed their minds to ask about health and safety practices, she says.

Ms Gaines says she’s glad she has finally got her little cat tattoo, inspired by a brooch she was sent for her birthday by a family member.

She says she hardly felt a thing and is amazed at the big men who ask her if it hurt.

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is a Whitireia journalism student.
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  1. aw yea buddy so how to you become a professional tattoo artist just because people do it from home doesnt mean theyre bad at it or unhygienic but i have to agree some of the tattoo guns and most of the inc sold on trademe is crap ive ben doing tatoos for nearly two years now from home and havnt given anyone a infection or hepatitis (touch wood) anyways thats my rant for the day and hey do you work in that shop in pram would be keen on getting some more work done how much you charge per hour ??

  2. some people my not like going to a shop $$$ and maybe theyre scared off catching hep. u dont knw whos what and what they do in their speare time, but they hav the $$$ to go to ur shops n get tats thru u.
    im a hep b carrire frm birth but not once been asked if i had hep…??? 2 different shops in lower north both tattooed me, even after stating to them i had it……???? since 10yrs ago some how i got hep c. Im a solo mother of twins and 2 oleder boys, i havent touched any injected drugs. so wots not saying i caught it frm the tatt shops cos in the 80’s they tattooed n e thing wf $$$$$$$
    I hav my boys who want to be tattooed and become tattooist..Not criminal tattoos but art frm the heart……

  3. I can’t believe that people would try to stop others from getting into the industry. I agree ya have to keep things clean and professional. And as for the guns on trade me, they may be cheap and crappy but the pro artists and actual tattoo supply sales won’t sale to the general public, but like wifi said you have to start somewhere. I recently asked an artist who had done some work on me if they would be willing to teach me what they know and help me get started in the industry, and I even offered to pay.. The artist’s answer… ” NO CHANCE IN HELL”… So, we start where we can, with what we can,and try to maintain the same standards as a professional shop.

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